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Commuter Complaints About Lincoln Memorial Turn

I went down to the Lincoln Memorial this morning to check on the many complaints I've been getting about the new lights at the memorial circle and 23rd Street. These affect inbound commuters as they come across the Memorial Bridge from Virginia and either head up 23rd Street or travel along Bacon Drive to Constitution Avenue.

Lincoln Memorial Circle2.jpg Lights for left and straight at 23rd Street and Lincoln Memorial circle. (Robert Thomson)

Here's one sample complaint from a reader in Alexandria:

"I commute from Alexandria to NW DC each day for work and am speechless about the change in traffic pattern from Memorial bridge around the Lincoln Memorial, toward Constitution Ave. "They have added 2 new stoplights and changed the traffic flow to be even worse than it was."

Here's the set up: As drivers come across the bridge from Virginia, they go about a quarter of the way around the circle, where they encounter traffic lights that will allow the left two lanes to turn left onto 23rd St northbound on a green arrow and the right lane to proceed a bit farther around the circle to Bacon Drive, which connects with Constitution Avenue heading east toward downtown.

Memorial Bridge.jpg Inbound and angry: Memorial Bridge traffic at 9 a.m. Monday (Robert Thomson)

The Lincoln Memorial area is one of the prettiest sites to end a major commuter route, and it's a shame people who encounter it are feeling such frustration. But at that point, they've been simmering for quite a while. One writer said traffic delays go as far back as I-395.

Looks like both the left-turn arrow and the straight-ahead light are protecting crosswalks, but during the morning rush, there are very few tourists down there. I encountered a few joggers and bicyclists, as well as the construction workers who are dealing with the larger project around the memorial. By my watch, the lights were green for 63 seconds and red for 66 seconds. The 23rd Street signal for pedestrians gives them 30 seconds to cross.

There's a sign that tells pedestrians they must push a button to call for the walk signal, but that doesn't control the sequence of the lights for drivers. It just makes pedestrians aware that they can proceed while the traffic light is red and tells them how long they've got.

I've got a call in to the Park Service to learn more. We can talk about it here or join me for the Live Online discussion at 1 p.m.

By Robert Thomson  |  September 18, 2006; 10:59 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Next: Creative Solutions Still Possible?


It is just as bad during the evening rush hour. The lights back up traffic the entire length of Bacon Drive and back onto the left turn lanes on Constitution Avenue during the evening rush hour. Prior to the installation of these lights, Bacon was rarely a problem.

Posted by: William | September 18, 2006 12:42 PM | Report abuse

This is an example of taking a solution that looked for a problem. Washington Blvd, which feeds onto the GW Parkway off of 395 via a stretch that goes right past the Pentagon, regularly backs up to 395 every day. The Lincoln Circle situation was fine until construction started a few years ago, but I am sure that everyone else assumed that the road was just being repaired while bollards were placed around the memorial.
The new traffic pattern is even worse than the one we endured during construction!
As some one who bikes to work on occastion, I know that there are plenty of ways for bikers and runners and tourists to negotiate around the Lincoln Memorial without crossing 23rd Street. Why anyone thought a light was needed there is beyond me.

Posted by: arlingtontwb | September 18, 2006 1:00 PM | Report abuse

This is an example of planners not thinking. To begin with, the traffic that continues on straight at the intersection of Henry Bacon Dr & 23rd St does not even need a traffic light. The light that is needed to allow pedestrians to cross is about 100 meters away on Henry Bacon.

What the light at the intersection does is cause backups across the Memorial Bridge and onto Washington Blvd.

Someone has to fix this. Anyone with half a brain only needs to observe for a few minutes that there is one light too many.

Posted by: Tired of it. | September 18, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

can i tell you a funny story about the memorial bridge & the lincoln memorial. my grandfather was the design enginner for the memorial bridge. of course, the building of the bridge involved landscaping around the lincoln memorial. well, the story in my family goes like this, my grandfather was asked to ride with a government official to decide what sort of landscaping plants would look nice around the lincoln memorial. they rode out into virginia and spotted a nursery that had some lovely plants (probably went all the way to clarendon). the old man who ran the nursery was very eager for a sale until he discovered in was for the lincoln memorial. he vowed no plants of his would grace used for the instegator of the war of northern aggression. his wife told him not to be a fool. they needed the money so he grudgingly agreed to sell the plants. the government official with my grandfather wrote out the check and handed it to the old man. the old man took one look at the signature on the check and tore the check up and told them to get off his land. the name of the government official - ulysses s grant the third.

Posted by: quark | September 18, 2006 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the previous posters. I don't know if the problem is that the lights on 23rd and Constitution and on the circle by the Memorial aren't synchronized, but it is an unbelievable headache now. And yes, it does back up traffic all the way to 395 in the morning, and all through Foggy Bottom and the West End in the afternoon. How could they have thought this would help traffic? I used to be able to get into the West End from Shirlington in about 20 mins, and now that is up to 45-60 mins. Poor planning, as usual!

Posted by: West End Worker | September 18, 2006 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I take this route in and the afternoon is worse than the morning (I come in early). It doesn't help that tour operators are waiting for tourists and oblivious to the fact they are blocking traffic! The lights at 23rd after Henry Bacon are too long and with no "No turn on red light" sign people are still trying to try to squeeze in regardless of the light. These lights were unnecessary and are now a major headache!

Posted by: 17th St. | September 18, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

This has turned out to be one of the most boneheaded things I've seen in a very long time. I'm affected only in the mornings, but it's bad enough that I have to allow an hour for what should be no more than a 25-minute trip. Even after 9:30 the backup frequently extends well into the HOV lanes. Last Tuesday it took me an hour and a quarter! I don't know what they were thinking, but I sure wish they'd fix it immediately.

Posted by: Springfield to Georgetown | September 18, 2006 4:24 PM | Report abuse

RE: Lights at the Lincoln Memorial/23rd Street/Henry Bacon Drive

My husband and I drive in from Alexandria and the back up in the mornings is truly all the way down I395, beyond our Shirlington on-ramp. The commute is horrible both in the morning AND the afternoon! In the mornings, it's that damned light for the lane going straight; and in the afternoons, the mess is caused by either cabs or tour buses parked in the right lane and their passengers who insist on crossing the street at the most inopportune time against their own pedestrian light, which is all the time! Do these vehicles even belong there during the height of the afternoon commute?

Please, please someone from NPS fix this problem! The lights are an illogical solution to a problem that did not exist. All anyone would have to do is just watch how severely the traffic flow is impeded for a few minutes and see that this is so.

Let's hope all these posts are reaching the powers that be and are having an effect.

Posted by: ReneJasmin | September 18, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree with all the comments about the effect this decision is having on traffic. I am sure it was well intentioned but it was the wrong decision. The question is: what can be done about it, who can we talk to and ask that it be changed?

Posted by: ken | September 19, 2006 5:11 PM | Report abuse

The new lights at the Lincoln Memorial are making me CRAZY! The longest part of my commute is now the 1 mile between the Pentagon and the Lincoln Memorial. Is this just a way to punish commuters for not paying a commuter tax?

You'd think that Washington would be able to get the best and brightest to design projects like this, but apparently they were on a tight budget. If they had to put up those ridiculous lights, couldn't they at least get someone out to survey the traffic situation to determine if the lights are set right (by the way, they're NOT)?

The evening commute gets backed up terribly on Constitution (and the connecting streets), but at least at night commuters aren't as pressed to be at a location at a set time like we are in the morning. Another problem in the evenings is that the tour bus drivers and cabs illegally park in one of the lanes while they wait for their passengers, and that blocks traffic even more.

Something has got to change. This is ridiculous, but not entirely surprising for Washington. I hope they keep up the "good" work. I can't wait to see what's next.

Posted by: Sarah | September 20, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

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